SD Legislature a disappointment

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Farm Forum

I have been following the South Dakota Legislature with great interest for the past several years, and I find them wanting when it comes to providing for the education of our children.

As a father of five and a lifelong educator, it has been abundantly clear that our majority leadership in Pierre continually underfunds and devalues education. Most troubling is that, when the Legislature initiates important education-related bills, it does so with little to no input from educators or experts in the field of education.

The governor recently signed the judicial reform bill. When 70 legislators sponsored this bill, it was touted as “A new approach to criminal justice (that) could save millions of dollars by allowing nonviolent criminals to straighten themselves out in their communities rather than in prison,” according to AberdeenNews.com.

What does this have to do with education? First, the process that was involved is different from the process used for education-related bills. This legislation was crafted after careful consideration and cooperation with all parties involved, i.e., the governor, Unified Judicial System, the chief justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court, judges, law enforcement, etc. That sounds like a good way to make a decision and draft legislation.

Yet, when was the last time the governor included all involved parties in important education-related legislation, i.e. teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, lawmakers, and the South Dakota Department of Education? I cannot name one instance in recent history where the governor and majority leadership have involved this type of cooperative partnership for education.

Fortunately, things may be looking up. There is a current educational effort under way that can serve as a model for future legislative action. A new Commission of Teaching and Learning was launched in January that will partner the South Dakota Education Association, Associated School Boards of South Dakota , School Administrators of South Dakota and the South Dakota Department of Education.

This commission was the result of a summit, hosted in Fort Pierre, on “Rethinking Education Reforms and Accountability.” Attending the summit, which was sponsored by state education association, were teachers, administrators, lawmakers, school board members, the U.S. Department of Education, the National Education Association and the South Dakota Department of Education.

This new collaboration is exactly what has been lacking in the South Dakota Legislature when it comes to drafting, debating and enacting education-related bills. “The commission’s charge is to examine various strategies that will support positive student outcomes. It will then make recommendations that are research based and have been found to be sound practice,” according to Sandy Arseneault, SDEA president.

Educators yearn to work with lawmakers and other interested parties to do what’s best for children. Only through meaningful partnerships, based on mutual respect, will we finally be able to do right by our children. They are our future, and they demand our best efforts to provide adequately funded, quality education.

Alan L. Neville is an associate professor of education at Northern State University. The views are his and do not represent NSU.